(c) J. Singh, 2016
The old man lay in the hospital bed, weak and exhausted. He wheezed as he breathed short, shallow breaths, straining with painful effort. His long white beard was unkempt and dirty, and his long hair was strewn all about the pillow in a tangled mess. Above his bed, lights and numbers flashed on the equipment monitoring his vital signs, along with the steady beep of the heart monitor. Otherwise, there was silence. The lights were dim, and there was a quiet calm in the room.
He turned his head to one side when the door opened, and watched as Gurinder Singh walked into the room, holding a package in his hands.
The old man tried to smile, but could only manage a grotesque looking half grimace. Still, Gurinder understood that the old man was glad he had come.
Gurinder placed the package on the side table, stood by the old man's bedside and pressed the palms of his hands together, bowing his head slightly as he offered his greeting.
"Vaheguroo Ji Ka Khalsa, Vaheguroo Ji Ki Fateh!"
The old man's hands shook. He tried to raise them up but he had no energy. His lips moved as he repeated the greeting in a raspy whisper.
"Forgive me," he said, "I am too weak to move, my body is failing me."
"It's alright," Gurinder replied gently. "Preserve your energy."
"Thank you for coming," said the old man, after a pause. "You must have been surprised to get the message, when I wouldn't allow any of my own children to come see me."
Gurinder nodded, but said nothing. He regarded the old man for a moment. His lips were dry and cracked, his skin sunken into the hollows of his bones. "Have some water," said Gurinder, "it seems you are very thirsty."
The old man nodded. Gurinder pushed a button on the side of the bed to adjust the incline. The bed hummed as it tilted itself, placing the old man into somewhat of a half-incline, half-sitting position. Gurinder turned around and poured a glass of water into one of the plastic cups, and then held it to the old man's lips as he sipped slowly. It did offer some relief, as some of the color returned to the old man's cheeks.
"I have led a life of ruin," the old man said after a few minutes, his voice trembling with pent-up misery and anguish and the terrible pain of regret. "Look at my condition now!"
Gurinder opened the package he had brought, and produced a wooden comb.
"Uncle ji," he said quietly, "you will not lie here without dignity."
The old man saw what was in Gurinders hands, and cast his eyes down in shame. Gurinder combed the old man's long hair slowly and gently, then tied it in a joora atop his head. He looked in the cabinets in the room and found a white washcloth, which he soaked in warm water in the sink, and then wiped the old man's beard, face, neck and shoulders clean. He brushed the old man's beard so it was long and flowing. From the package he had brought, he produced a navy blue dastaar, which he slowly and carefully tied around the old man's head. As he was doing so, he began whispering a prayer, which was only a whisper, but audible enough for both of them to hear.
"Ik Oankar, Vaheguroo Ji Ki Fateh! Patshahi Dasvin, Kabyo Baajh Benti Chaupai ..."
The old man's eyes began to water. He sat still, his closed heart starting to feel the warmth of caring and love that he had not allowed himself for so many decades of his life. As Gurinder continued tying the dastaar around the old man's head, and continued uttering the sacred words, the old man couldn't restrain himself anymore. He shut his eyes tightly and as the tears came streaming down his face, he began to sob uncontrollably. His stone heart melted, and his regret turned into repentance.
There was something in the loving acceptance of the prayer that fell upon his ears, or the young man whom he had no relation to, who was nevertheless here now, serving him and upholding his honor and dignity, even when he himself felt he didn't deserve it.
"I'm not worthy of the honor you give me," he said, leaning back into his pillow after Gurinder had completed tying the dastaar on him. He looked neat and tidy, well-groomed, like a wise old man.
"None of us are worthy, Uncle ji," replied Gurinder, "It is only with Guru's kirpa that we find our way."
The wrinkles on the old man's face seemed to have softened. He seemed to be more relaxed, relieved even.
"I will see my children," he said finally, nodding, "Please, will you ask them to come see me? If they still want to, that is."
"I will," Gurinder replied warmly, "and they will come running. I know they have been anxiously waiting to see you."
The old man sighed sadly.
"So many years wasted," he mused, disappointment clear in his voice, "all that time I had, it's all wasted, all gone. I lost my chance to build any good relationships with my family."
"It is never too late, Uncle ji," replied Gurinder.
"No, you see, I'm dying," he looked at Gurinder with deeply sorrowful eyes, "the doctors tell me that it's only a matter of days now. They don't know exactly when, but they've done all they can. I won't last until the next month even."
Gurinder nodded and said, "We will all die, Uncle ji, if not today, then tomorrow."
The old man listened to Gurinder, and nodded in acknowledgment. His gaze drifted off into the distance, and he appeared to be lost in his thoughts for several minutes. Finally, he spoke again.
"Is it really," he asked slowly, "never too late? Because, I ... I have something to ask you. I know, I know it's such a great imposition to call you here. And I thank you for everything, and may God's blessing be on you for coming to help me. As much as it's worth from a paapi like me. But ... I have a request, if I may please ask you for it?"
"What do you need, Uncle ji?"
"Please take me to the Gurudwara. I know it's difficult, if not impossible in my present condition. But, I have just one last request. I want to beg for Amrit, before death claims me."
Gurinder smiled, "Guru Sahib is always merciful, Uncle ji. I will certainly take you there."
The old man sighed in complete relief. He leaned back against his pillow, exhausted and spent. His face was happy, content, as if all of life's burdens had been lifted from his shoulders.The next morning, Gurinder and another Singh stood outside the doors of the Gurudwara. They held up a man who could barely stand, and walked with him into the darbar of the Great Guru of the Sikhs, to go before the Five who had assembled, and to request the last wish of a dying man.